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Haslam Pledges to Closely Monitor Developments with New Guns-in-Parks Law

Governor never a fan of the legislation, but says final bill at least better than earlier drafts

Tennesseans licensed to carry firearms in public have been granted the right, as a matter of course, to ignore locally imposed gun-bans in parks and recreation areas.

Both chambers of the state’s General Assembly this year passed legislation by decisive margins that proposed exempting gun-carry permit holders from local gun-free-zone ordinances in city and county parks. Gov. Bill Haslam, who has expressed unease with the effort, on Friday announced he’d be signing the bill into law.

Tennessee’s chief executive issued a statement to House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Friday explaining his decision. In it, the governor indicated that while he still isn’t altogether comfortable with House Bill 995, he believes the final language has important safeguards that are “a vast improvement” over earlier drafts the General Assembly contemplated.

Harwell, a Republican from Nashville, voted against the legislation in final form. Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, voted for it.

In particular, Haslam lauded a provision allowing local governments to continue banning weapons in the “immediate vicinity” of school-sponsored events in parks involving children. According to HB995’s language set to become state law, a gun-carrier could face a criminal charge for not taking “reasonable steps to leave the area of the athletic event or school-related activity after being informed of or becoming aware of its use” in the public park.

The governor wrote that he’s nevertheless “concerned that an unintended consequence may be operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, effective and consistent manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law.”

“As you know, I have expressed concerns about changing the law to remove local control of locally-owned parks, in part because I know community leaders have the best sense of the specific activities taking place in their parks as well as the unique conditions that exist in and around those areas,” Haslam’s wrote. “Some of the most sensitive situations state and local leaders must consider are those activities involving school children.”

The governor said he’ll be monitoring future events and incidents across the state related to guns in parks in order to “asses the impact of this law.”

A statement from Safe Tennessee Project, which opposed the legislation, expressed disappointment that Haslam went along with what they regard as a dangerous and ill-advised piece of legislation. “We at The Safe Tennessee Project feel blindsided by the news today,” according to the group’s statement. “We’d hoped for a veto but thought it likely Governor Haslam would choose to allow the bill to go into law without his signature. We did not expect him to sign the bill.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Haslam should have vetoed the bill, and that not doing so constitutes “an absolute failure of leadership.”

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